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    [post_date] => 2016-07-28 11:36:04
    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-28 17:36:04
    [post_content] => Hello Families & Friends,

The group is all aboard their flight to Los Angeles (LAX) and the plane departed on time.

Wishing everyone a happy reunion soon!

-Dragons Home Office
    [post_title] => All aboard and bound for Los Angeles
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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All aboard and bound for Los Angeles

Jody Segar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Hello Families & Friends, The group is all aboard their flight to Los Angeles (LAX) and the plane departed on time. Wishing everyone a happy reunion soon! -Dragons Home Office

Posted On

07/28/16

Author

Jody Segar

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-28 01:41:57
    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-28 07:41:57
    [post_content] => Hello Families and Friends,

The group is now boarding their plane in Kunming and ready for the flight to Hong Kong!

IMG_6642
    [post_title] => The group is checked-in and boarding their plane in Kunming!
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The group is checked-in and boarding their plane in Kunming!

Jody Segar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Hello Families and Friends, The group is now boarding their plane in Kunming and ready for the flight to Hong Kong!

Posted On

07/28/16

Author

Jody Segar

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-26 15:53:11
    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-26 21:53:11
    [post_content] => Dear China: Search for Meaning Students & Families,

Search for Meaning summer program students will soon be boarding their planes to return home and share their tales of adventure with each of you. We are sure you are anxiously awaiting their arrival!

Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for your reference:

July 28th, 2016

Dragonair #761

Depart: Kunming (KMG) 3:20 PM

Arrive: Hong Kong (HKG) 5:45 PM

 

July 28th, 2016

Cathay Pacific #880

Depart: Hong Kong (HKG) 12:05 AM

Arrive: Los Angeles (LAX) 10:10 PM

Should you need any assistance during student travel days, please call our Admin cell phone for assistance: 303-921-6078, or email: update@wheretherebedragons.com.

We wish all students a great trip home!

Sincerely,

Dragons Administration
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Return Travel Information

Eva Vanek,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Dear China: Search for Meaning Students & Families, Search for Meaning summer program students will soon be boarding their planes to return home and share their tales of adventure with each of you. We are sure you are anxiously awaiting their arrival! Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for your reference: […]

Posted On

07/26/16

Author

Eva Vanek

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-22 12:53:10
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    [post_content] => An image holds unmeasurable power. Every pixel of color alone has the potential to inspire a million emotions, stringing together with a predetermined sense of purpose. Add color to dimension, shifting shadows that somehow provide a sense of reality, and we see the thing as a whole. It is impossible to observe something all at once without simultaneously absorbing every small detail. This task is insurmountable, as it's not within human potential to see an entity comprehensively. I believed for so long that the way to understand religion was to understand it as a whole: to learn the singular definition of the term and live by that explanation alone. But I allowed myself to pacify my own ignorance, choosing to accept misunderstanding in lieu of admitting my inability to ever fully understand a mystifying world. I have lost something vital to the meaning of religion itself when trying to make generalizations about a subject that almost implies variability.

I am trying to go back, to somehow understand the internal challenges this subject has posed for me. Trying to simplify my experiences through image: singular, but potent flashes that I know are my best chance to explain how I have lived as a stranger to myself within the sphere of religion.

My first ideas of belief were represented by a star. A seemingly innocent shape made from two triangles, but an object that never properly fit in the palm of my hand, or at the heart of my being. While I was fascinated with its beauty and the ancestral power that it represented, I did not feel worthy of the title it brought. It is theoretically possible to identify with a practice by birth, but I felt like an outsider looking in when I witnessed my extended family living life this way. I feel guilty. Wrong for calling myself this when I know so little about these supposedly personal cultural and religious practices, from my own disinterest. Wrong because I lack faith, something that I have led myself to see as the most important basis of religion.

Next came the lights. Candles on both the menorah and the Christmas dinner table. I loved to stare into the center, a place so hot it becomes colorless, identity-less. LED displays that we would seek out, pointing out our favorites before they were gone in a flash. They were appreciated for their beauty; if we were to think too much about what they were there for, the fun suddenly felt heavy. Light shining through colorful glass that gingerly held forever preserved people. Their actions would never change, and neither would the writings that had placed them there. Admirable, but still emitting some cold, magic strangeness, blocking my spirit from being nothing more than a tourist.

What is belief? Faith in something you can't see, but rather, feel? How can we as a species, and on an individual level, even begin to comprehend the almost inherent complexity associated with the demonstrations of a connection to something beyond the physical world? For the longest time, I have suppressed these questions, buried them somewhere so remote inside my being that they became complacent streams within my unconscious mind. And really, if I allow myself to let go of the layers of self-assurance surrounding the things that I have convinced myself to be irrelevant, I know the word religion itself causes feelings of self-doubt, unsettlement, and fright to spring forward from somewhere deep inside of my chest. Religion is a topic I avoid discussing with anyone: even myself. I know my aversion to the subject as a whole, even though it encompasses innumerable customs, ethical practices, and world views that I in theory find beautiful and fascinating, comes from a lack of deep understanding and perceived inability to find information on these topics.

But faith--the meaning of this word has never ceased to puzzle me. I do not define it verbally, but rather see it as a something glowing golden for a few special people. Personified on a distressed piece of wood, made cheaply in some factory but still somehow out of my reach, the letters painted in an important looking font. Comforting by what it represents-home, love, togetherness-but not by what it means: dedication to something other than the physical. I wholeheartedly believed in what faith was supposed to provide, as I could tangibly sense the fact that holidays were a celebration of my family's love and care for each other. For me personally, they did not go beyond that, did not extenuate into the realm of spiritual belief. And I was, and still am, perfectly content with this. It was still unsettling to not understand, as I had not for all my life, what faith could mean for others.

At the monasteries and towns we visited, faith takes both physical and mental effort on the part of the individual, more so than I thought possible. Belief is about action in lieu of staying still, as everything in Buddhism, not just people, is always changing and shifting. Physical demonstrations of a person's internal truth have flooded my eyes multiple times. Neatly filed lines walking, directed by a path that never ends, but only repeats, as life itself manifests. As they walk, they spin cylinder-shaped tubes, a space for many scrolls again and again, symbolically reciting thousands of lines of scripture. The chanting of individual mantras, which can be barely discerned above the humming wheels, replaced my own buzzing thoughts for a while. The worshippers seemed to be simultaneously tuned into something beyond the physical earth, and somehow also more connected to what was happening around them. The earth is used to connect to a higher power: climbing incredibly steep caves to gain luck, making the journey up powerfully lonely mountains that broach the impossible themselves, to place prayers as close to the sky and higher beings as possible. Poles stand alone in seas of soft green, supporting the flight of colors and words upon the air. Golden tipped shrines and buildings rise out of nowhere. And what they hold inside is open for those willing to keep their eyes open to impossible beauty.

But seeing and experiencing these places and rituals was not enough to make me understand. All of these still felt too personal; when I pushed my way through darkness to be born again in the Fairy Caves at Lángmùsì, hearing the voice of a woman who did believe resonate throughout the walls, or when I completed a round of the kora, losing myself somewhere between the hundreds of spinning wheels, it was still me, a person who did not understand this phenomena in the first place, completing these practices meant for the faithful person. It would take something else, a single image, to make me comprehend the possibility for some to have a connection to a higher being.

A statue was all it took to make me understand what faith is. An image of the Buddha. Even though I am not a Buddhist, the eyes had something behind them. Wisdom, knowledge of the truth, something that surpassed humanity. I could sense the enormous amount of emotion and dedication poured into the indescribably beautiful temple housing the Buddha statue. The depiction of this holy figure was itself an experience that made me understand faith specifically, more so than ever before. A realization suddenly struck me: humans had created this divine statue, to attempt to replicate the devotion and connection they felt to the sage of their faith. It represented the power people felt, driving them to create something that was so magnificent, it could influence even the most misunderstanding, foolish people when it came to the topic of faith. I finally had some insight into how people can have a relationship with something beyond themselves, bringing more compassion, understanding, and meaning to their lives as a whole.

I have only begun to reflect upon the meaning and place of religion within my life, which I am already finding to be a unfathomable task. It is unnerving to know that there is no definitive answer to my questions, as religion by nature is a deeply personal journey. But continuing to accept a certain sense of complacency that surrounds this subject will only continue to heighten my misunderstanding. This voyage is only the beginning of maybe not quite understanding religion, but learning as much as I can before I form a more holistic view of various belief systems. It is the start of trying to identify where I belong and who I belong to, in an entirely new way. And most importantly, it is the first time that I have actively tried to understand the ways in which other people see the world, specifically through their relationships and understandings of the otherworldly.

 
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Faith

Maya Neidhart,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

An image holds unmeasurable power. Every pixel of color alone has the potential to inspire a million emotions, stringing together with a predetermined sense of purpose. Add color to dimension, shifting shadows that somehow provide a sense of reality, and we see the thing as a whole. It is impossible to observe something all at […]

Posted On

07/22/16

Author

Maya Neidhart

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-19 14:38:41
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    [post_content] => Even though there were several moments in which I wanted to quit, I had to keep going. It was a difficult journey; I had to reach somewhere deep inside myself to go on at several points. My lungs and heart would burst together every few seconds, while my legs screamed for a few seconds of mercy. Something told me to keep going, keep pushing, until I touched the top. I am currently at the summit of only one of the many mountains that surround us here. We are a few hours outside of Xining, between grasslands, mountains and sky. There is a desert that we can see if we climb high enough, rippling like a golden sea and surrounded by acres of yellow wildflowers. I am staying in a small valley characterized by endless green hills and the hundreds of sheep, goats, cows and yaks that graze them.

Even though I am thousands of miles away from home, I feel at home. I am staying with a woman and her husband, who have generously welcomed me into their life for a few days. Their yak hair tent is on a ridge above a creek, behind a plateau that serves as the home base for about 40 yaks. The yaks are milked each morning, released, and brought back by my Ama when the sun begins to fall down. Every evening, it just so happens that when my Ama is gathering the yaks together and walking them home, I am trying to catch my breath at the peak of a mountain-a different one every time. We make the passage back to the tent together, her walking though the base of the valley while I descend, and it feels as though our lives are effortlessly aligned for a few minutes; as if there must be a reason why all of this beauty, of the view from the top of the world and a simple understanding of what life appears to be, is all occurring at once.

The entire community has welcomed our group; we can go from tent to tent and be greeted with a hearty deimo and offered food, no matter the circumstances. In fact, the two terms that we have used the most are ka drin chey (thank you) and mergo (I don't need), in response to the amount of food and tea offered to us individually. The generosity of everyone has never ceased to amaze me. My Ama tried to gift me money and sugar when I gave her my presents, an event that most Westerners would consider to be a crazy reversal of the guest-host relationship. Coming from a nation where the act of protection first and foremost permeates the everyday, and the initial emotion when others are concerned is suspicion, the willingness and insistence on sharing to create relationships is a wondrous thing to witness.

Even though we lack a common language, we are able to communicate. At first there was silence. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do, or what we could say to each other, because we knew we wouldn’t be able to understand. Slowly, she started to speak to me using a combination of Tibetan and hand gestures, and I would nod, trying to understand contextually what she was saying. Most of the time I fail to grasp the exact meaning of what she was telling me, only managing to understand the tiniest essence of her words. Okay, more like 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent, she is asking me if I need to go to the bathroom or is commanding me to eat more bread. It is indescribably amazing when I understand even these few phrases of Tibetan. My incomprehension would end in shared laughter, and she would demonstrate how to do a task exactly before letting me try. We learned how to speak without relying on speech, by using a trait that threads through all of us: our ability to be emotionally connected to one another. There is a lot of laughter, more than I am used to when talking to someone in my native tongue. Laughter initially to break the tension, that eventually turned into a laughter of shared experiences and understanding-like when I stepped in a huge pile of yak poop for the first time. And when it happened a second time. Or giggles when I, a silly American, dove right into the job of picking up yak poop and spreading it on the ground for fuel.

We speak through touch. Like when I couldn’t sleep one bitterly cold night, and although she was unaware of my restlessness, tenderly touched my hand before feeding the fire. She also stares into my eyes whenever possible. At first I found this uncomfortable, and would stare off into the distance when I noticed her seemingly hostile glare. But I have learned that she does this to see how I am doing, to see if she can observe something deeper my soul is covertly communicating. I find myself sitting directly across from her to better position myself for this for this wordless conversation. And these ways to talk, in an unconventional sense of the term, are wonderful, because we often understand what we are saying in a larger sense, not losing any possible meanings that can be severed by the specificity of words.

Even though the altitude is thousands of feet higher than what my body knows, I can think more clearly about life than I have ever been able to. I could spend hours looking at the view; it is almost impossible to believe beauty like this is possible. So much awe fills every corner of my being that my brain can only be physically occupied by what I see - there is no room for insignificant thoughts about anything else. Especially when I think about the millions of visible stars that fill the darkness at night, a scene that serves as the backdrop behind everything in my mind during the day. For once I feel like I am enough just being, as the events that have transpired over the past few days have left me speechless, in wonder, have filled me with debilitating levels of gratitude. Practical strangers have been kinder to me than society raised me to think possible. I was able to communicate, and somehow form a relationship with someone without a set language. Every kind of geographic feature coexists to make one glorious world a possibility.

My comfort here is unsurprising.

 
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Homestay

Maya Neidhart,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Even though there were several moments in which I wanted to quit, I had to keep going. It was a difficult journey; I had to reach somewhere deep inside myself to go on at several points. My lungs and heart would burst together every few seconds, while my legs screamed for a few seconds of […]

Posted On

07/19/16

Author

Maya Neidhart

WP_Post Object
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    [post_date] => 2016-07-19 14:31:25
    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-19 20:31:25
    [post_content] => Hello all! We have returned from our home stays after four nights in the grasslands! Showering was my first priority, but now that I've done that, I will get this written up and posted. I cannot necessarily summarize the last four days for the group as a whole, as we were all placed in different homes, but I can give you a general idea.

We stayed in the summer pasture of Tibetan nomads three hours outside of Xīníng (西宁), all of us placed in different locations throughout a vast valley. Some of us were placed with a partner, or we were placed in tents very near to others, so we would have someone close, because some of us were as far as a 40 minute walk from each other. You can imagine how difficult it was for all of us to meet up. Our activities varied, but some included playing with the local kids, attempting to milk yaks, enjoying the landscape, going on hikes, tending the fire, smearing yak poop on the ground to let it dry for fuel use, climbing several mountains to herd sheep on the edge of the desert (Max), and, in general, awkwardly communicating with our families in any way we could. Pronunciation is KEY in Tibetan, as well as the correct dialect, so most of us could not rely on the little Tibetan we learned beforehand; I personally could only pull off three terms. But if we all learned anything, it was that there are many different and more powerful means of communication than words.
By the end of our four days with our families, we were all sad to go. Despite being there for such a short period of time, we all made connections with our families, and some of us even wanted to stay forever. With that, there were also people who were ready to leave, but we all agreed that we enjoyed the experience even more than we ever imagined we would.
I know for a fact that there are some incredible home stay stories and experiences that are going to be shared, so look forward to those! I'm just here to let you know what's going on.

Speaking of what's going on, we are currently preparing for our departure from Xīníng (西宁) and the entirety of Qīnghǎi (青海省) province, with Lhasa (拉萨/ལྷ་ས་) in Tibet (西藏/བོད) ahead of us! Being able to go to Lhasa is an incredible opportunity; we are the first Dragons group to be able to go in five years, so we are all very excited. As a bonus, one of the only ways into Lhasa is by train, so we will be taking the Qīnghǎi - Tibet Railway, which is famous for being the world's highest train ride. The ride is roughly 22 hours long, but it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful and we will be asleep for a large portion, so hopefully we won't go too crazy.

Lhasa holds many treasures for us, so catch us in Tibet!
Search for Meaning, OUT
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Hello to Xīníng (西宁)! (For one night only)

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Hello all! We have returned from our home stays after four nights in the grasslands! Showering was my first priority, but now that I’ve done that, I will get this written up and posted. I cannot necessarily summarize the last four days for the group as a whole, as we were all placed in different […]

Posted On

07/19/16

Author

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere

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    [post_content] => "In the transmission of human culture, people always attempt to replicate, to pass on to the next generation the skills and values of the parents, but the attempt always fails because cultural transmission is  DNA" - Grogory Bateson

On my Where There Be Dragons China: Search for Meaning Course, I have realized there is much to this world than what meets the eye; much culture, knowledge, tradition, and places to be seen. This realization in China has so far been an educational journey, one led from authentic ideals; not only enabling a learning experience to immerse, but an experience that has influenced my development as a person thus far.

Currently working with this experienced group of students, we are celebrating our qualities which we are learning and growing from, allowing us to develop a higher level of maturity. We are learning to expand our knowledge of the different culture and society that is China, enabling us to prepare for our future endeavors with a new perspective in mind.

Our diverse perspectives and upbringings allow us to debate topics on issues such as development, education, and spiritual commitment.  In our discussion about development, our group debated the defintion of the term along with our opinion on the topic.
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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The China Experience

Brenden Picard,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

“In the transmission of human culture, people always attempt to replicate, to pass on to the next generation the skills and values of the parents, but the attempt always fails because cultural transmission is  DNA” – Grogory Bateson On my Where There Be Dragons China: Search for Meaning Course, I have realized there is much […]

Posted On

07/17/16

Author

Brenden Picard

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    [post_title] => Photos our Home-stays with Nomadic Tibetan Families
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Photos our Home-stays with Nomadic Tibetan Families

Jody Segar,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Posted On

07/16/16

Author

Jody Segar

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    [post_content] => I used to hate the color yellow. It was ugly, cheap, deceiving. It was the color of my skin.

I was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. Growing up, my father would give me warnings, "do not befriend the Vietnamese, stay away from orientals." He encouraged me to build relationships with white people. I was put in the mindset that I was to marry a white man, a "real" man. To my father, we were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

At the age of 6 we moved to America. It was my chance to escape.

By middle school, I was ashamed of speaking my native tongue. I studied English meticulously, careful to get rid of my accent. I wanted a new name, one my teachers could pronounce; as if a white name could conceal my yellow skin. I didn't even want to identify as an Asian, forget an Asian American.

I had visited most of Southeast Asia as a child, but I can't recall anything significant because I had decided that all of Asia was the same a long  time ago. Likewise, when a woman in Song Pan told me I looked Chinese, I took it with a grain of salt. All my life, I had tried to assimilate to American culture.

As the trip progressed, I continued to be mistaken for a Chinese tourist. And yet, generous Tibetan men would pay for our dinner. Vendors would give me discounts in Xīníng. I recall telling a man selling tea that I couldn't speak his language despite looking like a local; I was expecting to be shooed away. Instead, he poured me a cup of tea.

How have I turned a blind eye to a people that have so much to teach me about kindness, selflessness, respect, and (most importantly) bartering? For 17 years, I had overlooked a people that had so much to teach me about myself.

Yellow has become the color of the flowers in my tea, the sun that shines on the hills of Lang Mu Si. One local said to me on my first day in Xīníng, "you cannot be an American." She is right. I am an Asian American.

 
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SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

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Yellow (not the Coldplay song)

Phuong Nhat Nguyen,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

I used to hate the color yellow. It was ugly, cheap, deceiving. It was the color of my skin. I was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. Growing up, my father would give me warnings, “do not befriend the Vietnamese, stay away from orientals.” He encouraged me to build relationships with white people. I was put in […]

Posted On

07/13/16

Author

Phuong Nhat Nguyen

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-13 10:26:36
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    [post_content] => Greetings friends, parents, and anyone else who reads these!

I have somehow taken on the role of posting the group updates, and I have no idea how, but here I am, letting you know what the heck we're doing over here. So just letting you know, all of the other kids are alive, well, and having a good time.

Anyway, back to business.

After a little change in plans, we ended up staying in Xīníng for FIVE WHOLE NIGHTS; we got to know our little part of the city pretty well during our many adventures.

We spent our second day in Xīníng with Tibetan students, all of who study English at the nearby university. We played some volleyball, basketball, and exchanged pronunciation tips over lunch for both Tibetan and English; although the language barrier was apparent, we still shared many stories and many laughs.

Our third day we started off by visiting the biggest mosque in the city; it was absolutely stunning! Our tour guide was incredibly kind, answering all of our questions while giving us an adequate history of the mosque and providing us with fascinating cultural/religious discussion. In contrast, later that afternoon we participated in an activity that's popular with the kids here these days; KTV, also known as karaoke times one million. You could look it up, but I'm sure you'll all get to see videos from us at some point.

Our fourth day in Xīníng was supposed to be our last, but due to some weather issues we ended up staying, giving us some relaxation time. We got in house lessons on Tibetan Buddhism and Daoism from two of our instructors as rain poured down on the city. We also have a group illness going around, so it seems that the extra day was for the best (don't worry parents, we are all doing great; we are LOADED up on Chinese/Tibetan medicine).

Today we journeyed to a café with enough wifi for all of us to whip out some mid course reflections/forms, and afterwards we met with our independent study groups (not saying any group is cooler than any other, but Gong, Phuong, and I did some Kung Fu on a roof sooo...). Most of us are currently in bed (obviously not me), getting plenty of sleep before our new venture begins tomorrow; home stays!!! We have been preparing during our entire time here, learning as much Tibetan as we can in such a short period of time, and educating ourselves on Tibetan nomad culture; and yes, we will be sleeping in tents. No indoor plumbing. In the middle of the grasslands. Two and a half hours outside of Xīníng. We. Are. Pumped! (I mean, some more than others. I know I'm pumped.) This is an incredible opportunity for all of us, and I'm sure we will all have amazing stories to tell about the experience.

We will be with our home stay families for four nights, and as you probably could have guessed, wifi isn't really a priority of the Tibetan nomads; don't be surprised if you don't see another post/update for awhile. However, after our home stays, you will likely be getting a rush of posts, as we will be spending one night back here before getting on a 22 hour train ride to Lhasa; a lot of field notes can be typed in 22 hours.

We are all a bit sad to have already reached the halfway point of our course, but it's serving as a reminder for us to enjoy each moment here that much more.

I leave you with this: next time you take a shower, take a moment of silence for all of us, because this group of teenagers will not be showering for another four days.
    [post_title] => Goodbye to Xīníng (and Indoor Plumbing Too)
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Goodbye to Xīníng (and Indoor Plumbing Too)

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere,SUMMER: China: Search for Meaning

Description

Greetings friends, parents, and anyone else who reads these! I have somehow taken on the role of posting the group updates, and I have no idea how, but here I am, letting you know what the heck we’re doing over here. So just letting you know, all of the other kids are alive, well, and […]

Posted On

07/13/16

Author

Nicolette Gordillo-LaRiviere

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